Sunday, September 25, 2016

Anders' Modern Building Blocks Quilt: Block One Underway

I wasn't in my sewing room much this week, and I haven't touched the skirt again at all since my last post.  I've been busy with work, and squeezed in a couple of bike rides to enjoy the slightly cooler temperatures.  I got a bit of hand sewing done as I was out and about, stitching stems down on a couple of Frankenwhiggish Rose applique blocks while I was waiting in the carpool line and during a violin lesson. I also made preparations for the first block of Anders' new quilt

First Block Will Finish 30" x 30"
It's my 30" version of the 36" block in the Moda Modern Building Blocks quilt, which I resized to fit my son's twin bed.  Since I've been enjoying the stress-free, instantaneous perfection of foundation paper piecing for my little 6" sampler blocks, I eyed those many triangle points and decided to FPP the block.  This block is already in the EQ7 software's Block Library (or else it was in the Block Base 2 add on; can't remember where I found it), so I didn't have to draft it from scratch, and I was able to plop it into my quilt design at 30" and then click "print foundation patterns" for the block.  Easy peasy, except that the foundation patterns for a 30" block don't really fit on 8 1/2" x 11" newsprint paper...

Foundation Papers, Some Assembly Required
So this is what I got.  TWENTY sheets of paper, and as you can see in the photo above, some of my block segments needed to have as many as three pieces taped together once I'd cut them out.  I took my time cutting and taping them, knowing that the accuracy of paper piecing is only as good as the accuracy of the foundation papers.  Traditional piecing might have been a better way to go, except that the quarter square triangles needed to make this block in a 30" size are not "ruler friendly."  I would have had to cut out 7 3/16" squares and cross-cut them into QSTs (Quarter Square Triangles).  Yuck!

After carefully cutting and taping, I got this:

Foundation Papers Ready to Piece
I put a scribble of black, blue or green on each patch to help me keep track of which fabric goes where.  After taking this picture, I also planned the stitching order to ensure that I have opposing seam allowances when I join the segments together to form the block, and I numbered the patches accordingly.  And then I pressed my fabric and cut myself some oversized QSTs.  I didn't cut out the giant green triangles yet, though, because I haven't figured out how I want to cut them yet.  They are QSTs from a 19 3/16" square. 

But meanwhile, there's a skirt upstairs waiting to be finished, and that's what I'm going to work on today: Interfacing the skirt yoke with SF101, assembling and attaching the yoke to the skirt, and maybe if I'm lucky I'll even get to that invisible zipper (that I probably should have put in first).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Of Skirts, Blouses, and Forgotten DVDs

Well, looky what I found in my studio the other day, all brand-new, still wrapped in cellophane and nearly forgotten in a corner! 

Threads Magazine Blouse DVD
It appears that, amongst my many purchases at last year's Sewing and Quilt Expo in Atlanta, I bought a Threads DVD featuring Sandra Miller's blouse construction techniques.  In my defense, I crashed on my bike a week after returning from the Expo, smashing my collar bone into little pieces and snapping all the way through the bone at the tip of my left thumb.  Humpty Dumpty didn't get back to her sewing room for a few months, and by then I didn't remember what all I'd bought and planned to work on.

Sounds like EXACTLY the supplemental information I need to walk me through my first blouse project, don't you think?  Anyway, before I spend any money on any online blouse sewing classes, I'm going to go through this DVD and watch the whole thing.  And take notes.  And maybe practice stuff.  We'll see.

Harrison Blouse Pattern, available from Cashmerette here
Another blouse resource that I discovered this week comes from Jenny of Cashmerette, an indie pattern company that specializes in patterns that fit and flatter curves.  Jenny's new Harrison Blouse pattern, shown above, fits exactly the way I'd hoped my White House Black Market blouse would fit after alterations (didn't work out that way, though).  I really like how the double princess seams on the Harrison blouse originate from the armscye instead of being straight lines from the shoulder seams; I think that will be more flattering on me.  The Harrison Blouse is available either as a PDF download or as a paper pattern, and they even have an online "Plus Size and Curvy Shirtmaking" workshop that walks you through their pattern step by step.  The only glitch is that the smallest size the Harrison Blouse comes in is a 12 and that might still be too big on me in the upper chest, shoulders, and upper back.  But it's nice to know I have some options.

Meanwhile, my skirt looked like this a few days ago after I'd cut everything out and then walked away from the project (again):

Paralyzing Mess Prevents Progress!
You are looking at not just the skirt pieces, but stacks and stacks of fat quarters for those 6" Farmer's Wife blocks, and a pile of prewashed and folded fabric and templates for Anders' quilt.  Too much started, not enough finished -- and I hardly had any time in the sewing room all week, because I've been working on a project design for a client.  Work before play.

But I'm trying to maintain that elusive balance in my life by observing a work-free weekend rule, or at least a No Working On Sundays rule, so I did manage to sneak into the sewing room for a bit on Sunday afternoon.  Now, my skirt looks like this:

One Side Seam Accomplished
You are looking at the right side seam of my skirt, and you are supposed to be admiring the precision of my pattern matching.  So, what I accomplished so far was to stay stitch the top of the skirt front and back and the lining pieces.  Then I sewed that right side seam in both the skirt fabric and the lining fabric, and serged off the raw edges of the seam allowances.  The skirt and lining were matched up, wrong sides together, and I basted the two layers together at the top of the skirt inside the seam allowance.  This took more time than you might imagine due to the slippery, shifty voile and my determination to match that pattern as precisely as possible at the seam.  There was obsessive pinning and basting involved, and I am pleased.  My skirt is an A-line shape, so the rows of flowers converge diagonally at the seam line, but I am satisfied that the rows of flowers will appear to be straight on the finished skirt.  Now let's hope I can match up the print so nicely on the other side, when I install my invisible zipper!

I still have to make and attach the yoke thingy to the waist of the skirt before the zipper goes in, and I'm still kind of foggy on just HOW I'm going to put that zipper in, because I am adamant that it's going to be an invisible zipper (in defiance of the dorky pattern instructions) and I am determined that the zipper tape is going to be hidden between the skirt fabric and the lining, just like it would be in a nice store bought skirt.  I found a couple of video tutorials online for inserting invisible zippers into skirts, a few that even showed how to do it with lining, but I'm going to have to adapt and combine techniques from different videos to make it work for my particular skirt style.  ALL of the video tutorials say to put the zipper in FIRST, before sewing any side seams, and I have to say, it does look like that would be easier.  Too late now! 

I don't know whether I'll get a chance to do anymore sewing before the weekend, but may be able to conduct additional zipper insertion research at odd moments in the carpool line.  Wish me luck!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Online Sewing Classes: Yea or Nay? Considering Cynthia Guffey's Women's Shirt Class

Through coincidence, serendipity or magical Internet cookie goblins or whatever, I received an email advertising Cynthia Guffey's online women's shirt making class within days of my Epic RTW Blouse Alteration Fail.

Cynthia Guffey's Women's Shirt Class, more info here
I'm intrigued!  I was literally just telling my husband that I wish I could find a teacher with a class like this only minutes before I opened my email and saw this.  If you go to the class description on the Martha Pullen website here you can view the course outline and watch a brief video about it as well. 

I know these online classes are all the rage now, but I've never taken one before.  I did purchase a Craftsy online class once about quilting with rulers on a domestic sewing machine, but I only watched the first lesson and never had time to actually go and attempt to DO what I watched the instructor do in the video.  Not the end of the world; I saved the link and I plan to go back to it when I have time and have a project at the quilting stage (right now I'm piecing and appliqueing several different things but nothing is ready to quilt). 

But that ruler class was priced similarly to a paperback quilting book, maybe $20 or so.  This online shirt making class costs a whopping $279, which seems like a lot of money for a class where you are watching videos online but not getting any individual instructor feedback on your work.  Even if I watched every lesson and reinforced what I was trying to learn by actually making my own shirt along with the lessons (and this is a big if, based on my track record from the ruler quilting class), what if I run into a problem and can't figure out what I'm doing wrong?  If this was a local class with a dozen students and Cynthia was going to be right there with us, walking around the room and giving feedback on what we were doing as we were sewing, I would sign up in a heartbeat.  There are nine "sessions" to the class, and if I took a nine-week class that cost $31 per session, that would feel reasonable.

Original Edition (the one I have)
Have any of you taken online sewing classes, and if so, did you like the format and would you do it again?  I'm imagining that these online classes are a lot like the old VHS tapes we used to be able to buy.  I remember that when I was learning to hand quilt, I read Roxanne McElroy's That Perfect Stitch book but also bought and watched the accompanying VHS tape (now available as a DVD here).  I liked the combination of seeing the video of the rocking hand movements involved in the quilting stitch, with the book as a reference to quickly locate information as I needed it.  But it wasn't until I actually took a class with Dierdre McElroy in person that everything clicked, when she observed me quilting and told me that my thimble was too big.  Since it was a Roxanne thimble and she had them for sale at the quilt show, she exchanged my thimble for the correct size on the spot and it was smooth sailing from then on out.  I think she also gave me some useful feedback about how tightly I was hooping my quilt. 

The updated DVD tutorial video of That Perfect Stitch is about two hours long, and it retails for $38.  The shirt making class has nine sessions, probably at least 30 minutes each, so maybe the class is a total of 4-5 hours worth of videos.  Even if you adjust for the shirt class offering more than twice as much instruction time, it's still outrageously more expensive than the quilting DVD, especially since the Martha Pullen company is not incurring the costs of actually manufacturing and distributing DVDs of the video content, since it's all online.  The course description says that students can "access the courses any time, anywhere, from computer, smart phone or tablet" and that there is "no set class time...  courses structured to fit around your schedule."  All this is true of a DVD, but I would have an actual, physical DVD rather than a link to an online account somewhere.  A DVD I can put with other DVDs in my sewing room and find it again easily 6 years from now.  I am notorious for forgetting my login information and passwords for all of my numerous online accounts, and 6 years from now I would probably remember that I had paid for an online shirt making class that I was supposed to have access to "any time, anywhere," but if I didn't remember the instructor's name, the name of the web site I bought it from, or any other specifics, it would be nearly impossible to locate and access the course again online.  Then there's the possibility that the Martha Pullen company might go out of business or discontinue their online classes, and the content might be removed from the web altogether when I tried to access it again in the future.

Obviously, an in-person nine week class would be ideal, but the sewing stores near me only offer quilting classes or very basic beginner sewing classes, like making a pillowcase or an apron. 

What do you think, folks?  Has anyone taken a class like this, and how did you like it?  Is there a better one out there for me that you would recommend instead of this one?  I have taken in-person pattern alteration classes and I feel confident there.  What I need help with the most is the construction process from start to finish and all of the sewing techniques (like sleeve insertion, collars, cuffs, shirttail hems) that are specific to sewing a garment rather than something I would have encountered in quilting or home dec sewing.  Watching the video description of Cynthia Guffey's class, what is most appealing to me is that she says that there appears to be a lot of hand work involved and she says that she does not teach "shortcuts," but foolproof methods for achieving superior results the first time.  That's the way I want to learn to sew.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Lessons Learned: RTW Blouse Alteration Fail, and Didn't Know My Serger Could Do That!

Cotton Poplin Blouse from White House Black Market
Having a khaki and white dress code for church choir this Sunday and plenty of khaki beigish skirts, but no white tops in my closet, I went Emergency Shopping on Saturday afternoon with my mom.  She convinced me to buy this size 14 blouse from White House Black Market because, with all the princess seams, she thought we could get a really good fit for me with way less work than sewing a tailored blouse from scratch.  I  wish I had taken a picture of this RTW (ready-to-wear, a.k.a. "store-bought") blouse BEFORE we started messing with it, because this top was so big on me that I thought it was SUPPOSED to be an oversized fit.  I was shocked when I went to the store web site just now for this image and saw how fitted the blouse is on the model.  I do not LIKE this blouse!  This is an important point that we will come back to.  So, anyway.

We were in a rush when we got back to my studio with the blouse, so my mom put the blouse on Headless Helena (my customized dress form) and started pinning in the blouse at the three princess seams on the back.  Meanwhile, I was getting my machine set up with the right needle, thread, presser foot, etc.  When mom showed me the blouse-in-progress on the dress form, it looked like a maternity blouse to me because it was more fitted in the back and bust but flared out below the bust and through the tummy...  So I asked if the front could come in a bit just under the bust.  Then I started struggling to get a balanced 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger while Mom started taking in the seams she'd pinned on the other machine.  Anyone noticing the red flags yet?  I did NOT try on the blouse before Mom started taking in the seams.

And there were mishaps.  I had cleaned and oiled the sewing machine, but apparently got a little too much oil somewhere because the first stitches on the blouse came out oily beige instead of white thread.  Sewed on scraps until the thread was clean and continued on.  The serger was making me crazy, the Bernina 1300 MDC serger that I have owned and loved for 10 years, and I couldn't get a balanced 3-thread narrow overlock to save my soul.  My serger manual recommended setting the needle and both looper tensions at 4.0, and my stitch looked REALLY, DRASTICALLY wrong at that setting, and minor adjustments weren't doing any good.  But the RTW blouse had a narrow 3-thread overlock finishing all of the princess seam allowances, and this being an expensive blouse, I wanted it to look just as good inside and out AFTER alteration as it did before.  Anyway, it was getting late and Mom had to go, so she left the blouse for me to trim and overcast the seam allowances and close the hem again at the back of the shirt.

I took a break for dinner, came back up, changed needles, rethreaded about 15 times.  Started wondering whether I had ever actually USED a 3-thread overlock stitch on the machine in all the time that I've owned it -- maybe there's something screwy with my machine and it just can't MAKE this stitch?!  And then finally, at about 10:30 PM, I got a lovely 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger with these crazy settings:

My Serger's Weird Settings for 3-thread Overlock
Can you believe it?  I've never had to make such drastic adjustments for a 4-thread overlock, or a 2-thread overlock, or for any other stitch.  For some reason, I had to jack the needle tension all the way up to 6.0 and reduce the upper looper tension to 3.0.  So I wrote these settings on my sample and shoved it in the drawer with a hundred other samples that I hang onto for reference.  And then, totally by accident in my button-pushing, I discovered something wild about my serger. 

The Bernina 1300 MDC serger is not computerized, but it does have a little electronic screen where you can scroll through all the different serger stitches and see the suggested settings for each stitch.  You can totally ignore this screen, because it doesn't automatically change any tensions or settings.  However, whatever stitch is showing on the screen when you turn the machine off, that's the stitch that will show on the machine the next time you turn the machine on.  So in the past, I have scrolled to whatever stitch I was doing and used this feature as a reminder of what the machine is set up to do currently when I turn it on again 6 months later.  If I know I used the machine for a 2-thread overlock last time, then I know I have to take off that little looper converter bypass cap thingy before I can do a 4-thread overlock, for instance. 

But I have just finally realized that I can EDIT the settings shown for each stitch on that screen, and the changes will be SAVED!  Eureka!!

Crazy Tension Settings Saved for Next Time
See?  It used to say 4.0, 4.0, and 4.0 for this stitch.  I remember in my serger mastery class so long ago that the instructor said these recommended settings are just a starting point, that each machine would be a little different even when they are the same make and model.  She had us write down in our workbooks what OUR machine's settings were for a few of the different stitches, but she did NOT show me that I could actually save that information in the machine itself.  I know there is a big button marked "EDIT" on the front of the machine, but when I pressed it in the past and nothing happened, I forgot about it.  You have to press Edit, then the button on the left marked CHANGE, then the right or left numbers to increase or decrease to the right number, and then to save it you have to push the bottom button marked SET.  I know this sounds obvious now, but I feel like I discovered a new continent or something.

Back to the blouse.  So, at 11 PM I finish with serging off the excess seam allowances from the altered princess seams, and restitching the back of the shirttail hem (poorly, by the way -- I could not get it nice and smooth like it was before).  And I try the blouse on, for the first time since I tried on an enormous oversized blouse in the store that fit like a smock.  And I am astounded and displeased to discover that the blouse is now VERY FITTED through the tummy and upper hip/tushy area.

Blouse Altered: Size 14 Shoulders and Bust, Size Snug at the Bottom
Ugh.  I was so not loving this.  Very matronly, I think, and it looked like a uniform to me, too -- like I should have a name tag pinned to my chest.  Not at all what I wanted, or what I was expecting.  There were other issues -- a hump in the upper back.  The seams needed to be taken in all the way from top to bottom, since I am not a hunch back. 

Side View Showing Upper Back Pouf
This upper back poufiness gets worse as I move around in the blouse, because the overfitted derriere rides up, like so:

The Hunchback of Charlotte, North Carolina
But at this point, I called it a fail.  Not worth spending more time trying to get this blouse to fit perfectly, now that I know that it is just not my style or not flattering on me or whatever.  I'm not going to wear it anyway.  I am NOT COMFORTABLE in tight-fitting clothes, period.  I don't like that I can see my belly button through the blouse, I'll bet it gets even tighter after I wash it the first time, even if it was cold water.  And that bright white cotton fabric would get stained and ruined the first time I made a cup of coffee (which is probably why I didn't have any white tops in my closet to begin with!),  Even the little sleeve cuffs, that seemed so cute in the store, are even annoying me now, reminding me of a '50s diner waitress outfit. 

Diner Waitress Cuffs
If I button the blouse all the way up, I look like a linebacker -- too broad across the chest and shoulders.  If I unbutton the top couple of buttons for more of a V-neck effect, I look like a diner waitress.  I am getting flashbacks of this teal waitress uniform that I wore in high school when I worked at the Burger Hop after school:

Burger Hop Uniform, Suspiciously Similar to WHBM Blouse
Just looking at this, I am flooded with memories of mopping floors, refilling ketchup bottles and rolling napkins late at night, and coming home smelling like greasy French fries.  Bottom line?  I just don't like the style of this blouse.  If I had seen that picture of the blouse on the model, and known how fitted it was supposed to be, I would never have bought it in the first place. 

So, what have I learned, besides how to achieve a balanced 3-thread overlock on my serger?  I have learned -- hopefully! -- to STOP BUYING THINGS THAT DON'T FIT ME.  And I have learned that, although the dress form is handy, I should have known better than to start sewing without tryin the blouse on my own body to see if I liked the way it was fitting.  My mom was right about the princess seams giving lots of opportunity for fitting adjustments, but really, this blouse was never going to be perfect on me.  The reason it's giving me hunch back is that it's still size 14 in the upper back/  If I want a tailored blouse that fits me, I'm going to have to make one myself using a smaller size pattern that fits me in the upper chest, shoulders and upper back, and doing a full bust adjustment to make extra room only where I need it.

I should have made a quilt block instead.